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Special Property Weaves Three Families Together

September 26, 2011 | Little Traverse Conservancy | Harbor Springs, MI
Special Property Weaves Three Families Together

Photo courtesy Ruth Herzog


Contact: Ty Ratliff
Little Traverse Conservancy
Land Protection Specialist
(231) 344-1005 |



“The Hill” Nature Preserve Donated in Boyne City


HARBOR SPRINGS, MI -- For more than 50 years, the beauty of northern Michigan, the love of adventure and a special piece of property have woven three families together.

During the 1960s, ski trips to Boyne Mountain first brought the Herzog brothers — Gene and John — as well as their friend and fellow orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lou Mrstik, to Boyne City. “I immediately bought a home,” Mrstik says. “We were eager to enjoy the ‘up north’ and we did just that.” The Herzogs also bought a shared home and a lifetime of trips to northern Michigan was started.

Soon after their first visit, the three men began searching for a piece of property they could share. The main requirement was that it have a hill, and, in 1966, they discovered and purchased the old Grunow Farm. Located on the north end of town, the land includes a great variety of features, most notably beautiful panoramic views of Lake Charlevoix. “This was where the men could truly relax and take a break,” said Ruth Herzog, John’s wife.      
As children came along and the families began creating traditions tied to the property, they fell more deeply in love with the region during all of its seasons. Lou and Gene started an annual task of planting trees. “This actually became our job,” laughs Jackie Malloy, Lou’s daughter, recalling how the men would send the kids off with hundreds of seedlings and a shovel. It is a ritual the kids still tease their fathers about because most of the seedlings died the first couple of years until they realized they should be planted in furrows. Trees were planted in the shape of a peace sign one year and spelled out “Big Lou” another year, all clearly visible from the air. An “O” circle of pines still stands out today. John planted a vineyard on the hillside and harvesting and processing grapes became an annual event for all three families. Variations of a garden waxed and waned over the years. Today the vineyard and garden are still an almost daily destination for John and Lou during the seasons when they reside below it on the lake.

Over the years, dozens of special family events and gatherings with friends were held at the land that was now commonly referred to as “The Hill.” “Jackie puts a book together for each of the kids’ graduations and they all include memories from The Hill,” Lou said.      

In 1996, the families donated a conservation easement to Little Traverse Conservancy protecting 106 acres of the property adjacent to the vineyard and garden. This year, the land was donated to Little Traverse Conservancy to become a permanent nature preserve. “We’re getting up in years and it was time to give the land away,” said Lou.

A Community Gem

In addition to the topography of the land, The Hill Preserve includes a nice diversity of both pines and hardwoods within its boundaries. Apple trees have risen from the seeds of the old farm orchard and lilac bushes reveal the old farmstead.

“The primary concern with this preserve right now is that there is very limited parking,” said Doug Fuller, director of stewardship. “But it is currently open to the public and is an excellent destination for hiking.” The Conservancy is working with the county to explore other options for parking along Old Horton Bay Road. For a map and directions to The Hill Preserve, visit and scroll to the story on the main page.

About Little Traverse Conservancy

Since 1972, the Little Traverse Conservancy has been working as the oldest regional, non-profit land trust in Michigan. With the support of more than 4,100 members, the Little Traverse Conservancy works with private landowners and units of local government to permanently protect ecologically significant and scenic lands from development. Since it was founded, nearly 41,000 acres and 106 miles of shoreline along our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams have been set aside to remain in their natural state within Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Mackinac, and Chippewa counties. In addition, more than 5,000 young people participate in a Conservancy environmental education outing every year. For more information about the Little Traverse Conservancy and land protection options for your land, please contact their office at 231.347.0991 or visit  


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